Caught in a Car Lease? Sites Offer Some Relief

Leasing has become a popular way for drivers to get into the car or truck of their dreams. But for those dreaming of a different car, fees and penalties often await. Many new Web sites promise to match people who want out of their automobile leases with people looking to lease.

But is using popular sites like LeaseTrader a good choice? The answer to that question largely depends on the requirements imposed by your leasing companies. In some cases, the result has been a number of complaints from confused consumers.

In one instance, Dawn Oldenbuttel of Charlotte, N.C., found someone to take a new Volvo off her hands — along with a $636 monthly lease payment. Luckily for her, her leasing company allowed her to remove her name from the contract.

If they hadn't, Oldenbuttel could have been liable for any future mishaps with the car.

In Florida, there have been a number of complaints filed with the attorney general's office by consumers who say they weren't adequately warned about how the deals work.

Honda, Chrysler, Nissan and Bank One all require that the original lease holder's name stay on the contract. Other companies prohibit lease transfers altogether.

Elaine Litwer, of the National Vehicle Leasing Association, said, "Depending upon with whom you wrote your original transaction, you are now like a co-buyer.

"And that means you have to have some due diligence as to whether they are continuing their obligation. Because you might be called upon to step back in and take back that vehicle."

Still, Sergio Stiberman, the founder of Lease Trader, said that sites like his are far cheaper than ending a lease early.

"If you look at what it will cost a person to get out," he said, it amounts to "230-240 dollars when it's all said and done. It's every inexpensive compared to the thousands and thousands it will cost you to prepay the lease."

But for those who have a leased vehicle and want to get out of the contract, the implication is clear: either make sure your name gets taken off the lease — or be prepared to monitor the payments very carefully.

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